• Resolving Problems

My Friend Has Mental Health Problems: How Can I Help Her?

October 12, 2020 | By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

When a friend has mental health problems it can be hard to know how to help, especially during the pandemic.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I’m trying to find ways to be a better friend to someone who is going through a lot. We are very close and have been for many years. She deals with some mental health issues like ADHD and depression and so do I so we always were able to connect on that front. 

Recently though, she’s been feeling very depressed about various factors in her life. She harbors a lot of self-loathing over things like her appearance, her race, her intelligence, where she’s at at her stage of life, and her romantic life. She’s aware of her depression and we’ve talked in depth before about where these things come from but, of course, it doesn’t stop them from coming back time and time again.

Lately, with the pandemic, I think things have taken a toll. She was supposed to come and visit me and it was one of the biggest things she was looking forward to and we had to cancel. She also had to break up with someone she had been very close friends with for a long time. Overall, she feels like she’s behind everyone else in her career path. 

In particular, I think the breakup has left her feeling loveless. She’s been through ten breakups and has been cheated on. She’s dealt with toxic people and is starting to assume she only attracts the worst type of people. Even worse. every time she has a crush on someone they seem to be taken. She’s even had a crush on me and I know it’s been kind of an awkward and a hard spot in our friendship because I’m already dating. She’s never pushed me or anything just I feel bad that I’m part of this unlucky streak.

I want to be there to console her and encourage her but I wonder if there’s a better way to be understanding of a friend who has such vastly different experiences than my own. I can’t understand the pain she deals with because I’m not black and I’m not poor. I have a lover and well-paying job—things she desperately wants and works for but doesn’t have. 

I feel bad because I feel like I remind her of all the things she doesn’t have right now. She doesn’t make me feel bad, of course, but my consolation and encouragements probably fall flat because again, what do I know about being in her position and how can I help her get through this?

I guess my main question is how do you console a friend going through a difficult time when you’re privileged and they have very different life experiences than your own?

Signed, Marla

ANSWER

Hi Marla, 

You sound like a concerned and empathetic person. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated depression and anxiety among a large number of people. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund reported that one-third of the U.S. adults that were surveyed reported feeling stress, anxiety, and great sadness that was difficult to cope with by themselves.

Your friend seems to have a number of problems—economic, emotional, vocational and social—that may have worsened at this time. This has to be a tough situation for both of you. But you need to bear in mind that there are limits to friendship when a friend has mental health problems: You can only be a friend, not a therapist. 

You haven’t mentioned whether your friend is currently in treatment but she might benefit from working with a mental health professional who could help her begin to tackle some of the complex issues you describe. I previously posted a list of mental health resources and would encourage you to share the list with your friend. 

Getting your friend outside support would also lift some of the emotional burden for you. It can be overwhelming and depressing to be close to someone who is depressed.

In the meantime, continue to check-in with your friend regularly and remind her how much you value your friendship even though you aren’t able to get together. Be a good listener but be sure to set boundaries if it becomes too much for you.

Try to focus on what you both have in common rather than on your differences. This might entail reminiscing about old times as well as creating new shared memories—yes,  even during the pandemic. Can you take a socially distanced walk together? Or agree to read the same book or binge-watch the same TV series as fodder for conversation?

Encourage your friend to focus on things she can enjoy independently as well. Are there hobbies or interests she can pursue that would bring her pleasure? Or, perhaps, a free course that would enhance her job skills. 

As much as you would like to fix all her problems, the best thing you can probably do right now is be a good friend, which is a valuable role! Be sure to take care of yourself, too.

Hope this helps!

My best, Irene

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Category: Depressed friends, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

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  1. Amy says:

    One of the most damaging things a friend can do for a friend who has mental health issues and isn’t seeking treatment is to be a pseudotherapist, giving her enough of a bandaid to avoid seeking or utelizing the professional support she needs. Since she already has psych diagnoses, I hope she already has a therapist or psychiatrist. If not her doctor or insurance company any refer her, though it may be online for now.
    That’s why boundaries are so important. Pivoting the discussion with statements, “That sounds like a great topic for therapy” “I bet a therapist could support you with that.”
    If it seems like you are more invested in time friend’s mental health recovery than she is, it’s a sign you need to take a step back and use stronger boundaries with your availability and how much you’re willing to listen. One sign of this may be all of your comments are met with “yes, but…”
    If you let your friendship become all about her problems, you create an imbalance in the relationship from which the friendship may not recover.
    You can’t save your friend, she has to do that for herself with professional help.

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